Two books about farming

Perhaps my previous book review post Two books about the countryside could have had the same title as this one. The two books reviewed here are by people, who are currently farming in the north of England. I didn’t read them consecutively, sandwiching a work of fiction between them. Look out for my review of that shortly!

Book cover Adventures of the Yorkshire Shepherdess

Adventures of the Yorkshire Shepherdess by Amanda Owen is the first of her books I have read, but the fourth she has written. It is described on the cover as ‘The new book from TV’s favourite shepherdess’. I haven’t seen her on TV, either. However, I follow her on Twitter and have heard her speak on BBC Radio 4. I read Adventures of the Yorkshire Shepherdess on my phone using the Borrow Box App, where it was one of the featured books. It was published in March 2020.

Amanda Owen has a lively style of writing. The farm and her large family provide her with plenty to write about. How she finds the time is difficult to imagine, but as she said in the book, ‘If you want anything done ask a busy person’. The introduction sets the scene and we meet the family with their six children. Although part of a series, Adventures of the Yorkshire Shepherdess stands alone. Farming successes and sad events as well as the purchase of a house and its refurbishment make for variety. Stories of missing animals add drama. There is a section with photographs. Conversations in particular are in Yorkshire dialect. The family increases in size and other interesting characters feature in the adventures. Amanda Owen’s next book is being published on 28th October 2021.

Book cover - English Pastorl

Reviews of two of James Rebanks’ earlier books have appeared on this blog. His latest book English Pastoral – An Inheritance was in the local library when I made a flying visit to it recently. I had wanted to read it since its publication in September 2020. James Rebanks farms in Cumbria not all that far from Amanda Owen. The counties of Yorkshire and Cumbria neighbour one another. In English Pastoral James Rebanks considers the introduction to farming his grandfather gave him as a boy. His family’s farming history on two farms and his life on one of those now in the changing climate (of ideas as well as weather) are described evocatively. I have followed this author on Twitter since before his first book was published and his anonymity as @herdyshepherd1 (a contributor to Cumbria Life magazine) ended.

Although this book is mainly about a particular location, there is nothing parochial about it. The author is well aware of the wider world. One of the people, who endorsed English Pastoral is Isabella Tree, whose book Wilding I reviewed recently. It’s a small world! English Pastoral was the book of the year 2020 in several UK newspapers. James Rebanks is working on his next book.

I enjoyed both these books and feel that I now understand more about the various activities I observe in the fields around the village where I live, than I did even last month!

With all the debate about climate change, rewilding and food supplies, the voices of people working on the land are particularly worth listening to. These two authors want to leave the world a better place than they found it.

The Shepherd’s Life 

This book is being treated to a post of its own for various reasons including the fact that it is the only library book I have finished reading in March so far.

 

I began following @herdyshepherd1 on Twitter a few years ago. I probably heard about his account from the magazine, Cumbria Life, where he was writing a regular column. I thoroughly enjoyed his Tweets and the associated photos. He managed to keep his identity a secret for a long time.

When this book was published it was also serialised on Radio 4. I remember listening to some of it. I have only recently laid my hands on a (hardback) copy, which I found fascinating. I had borrowed a later book The Illustrated Herdwick Shepherd from the library. It complements the first book, although it can be read without having read the earlier book.

The Shepherd’s Life: A Tale of the Lake District is autobiographical. It is well-written and explains a lifestyle which the majority of people in towns and cities know little about. Reading it after Burning Secrets, I discovered how flocks had been built up again following the devastating outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease.

The author, James Rebanks, used his Twitter account wisely and built up a huge following before his books were published. Having followed him on Twitter I am aware of some events which happened to him (or his family) after those included in the book. It is a bit like fitting a jigsaw puzzle together.

He was the shepherd I mentioned in a poem I wrote, March.

I consider this to be a very important book and recommend it. (It won one prize and was short-listed for two others.)

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What I read in October 2017

Books I finished reading in October

Books I finished reading in October

Seaside Pleasures by Ann Lingard was recommended to me on Twitter by the author after I reviewed her earlier novel The Fiddler’s Leg. The reason she gave was that it included a scene from Allonby beach, where hubby and I had joined one of her walks at low tide. It happened that I found the book in a small collection of second-hand books for sale.

It is written from the points of view of four very different characters – one from an earlier time. The author’s note explains where the story deviates from historical facts.

All the characters are changed in some way through their experiences as told in the story. There is much background information about scientific research into parasites of molluscs. The beliefs of some of the characters were important to the plot. Art and music also featured. I was pleased to recognise most of the music, which was mentioned by name. (This would not be the case with modern pop music!)

There is much to think about in this book. I could only read a few chapters at a time before I needed a break. (I started reading it in September.)

It is a well-researched, well-planned and well-written novel.

 

Surfacing by Margaret Atwood was another book I found second-hand. I picked it because I had not read anything by this well-known author. It is a book about going back to a childhood home as an adult. This particular home was in a wild area of Canada. At one point I wondered whether the story was going to become as uncivilised as The Lord of the Flies by William Golding, which I had to study at school. One recurrent theme was birth control, which was uppermost in many people’s minds in the early 1970s, when this book was first published. At times I found it difficult to distinguish between what was going on in the protagonist’s mind and what was actually happening in her life. A good book.

 

A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking was one of the non-fiction books I began reading earlier and finished reading in October. The background to why I read this and the review perhaps require a post to themselves. Watch this space!

 

The Choir by Joanna Trollope was a second-hand book from a different source. I have read some of Joanna Trollope’s books in the past. I am unsure whether this was one I had read or not. It is about politics and family life around a cathedral choir. The story is good with all the characters developing through the circumstances of their lives. It was an appropriate book for me to read this month as I had been to sing in a Royal School of Church Music (RSCM) choral event at a cathedral one Saturday. That helped set the scene.

 

The Illustrated Herdwick Shepherd by James Rebanks was on display in the public library. I have followed the author on Twitter from the time before he revealed his name (on the publication of The Shepherd’s Life). The book I borrowed uses his photos and a sparse amount of text. I read more than half of it, while I waited for an appointment. Later I reread most of it to study the photos and avoid skimming through the text. It is a beautiful book, which describes a way of life unknown to many people in cities. I live within sight of fields of sheep (including herdwicks), although I have no experience of farming.

 

Go set a watchman by Harper Lee is another book I found at the library. I did not read it immediately after publication, when there was a lot of discussion about its merits and demerits. I have read the other novel by Harper Lee, To kill a mockingbird, twice. I read it in my youth and reread it more recently. I didn’t find that an easy book to read and remember the storyline. By contrast, I found Go set a watchman intriguing, easy to read and full of humour (it made me laugh) and wisdom. Strangely the theme of a fairly young adult woman returning to her childhood home from an urban environment is the background to this book as in Surfacing (above).

 

Out of Silence by Annie Try is the third published novel by this author. It is the second story featuring the psychologist, Dr Mike Lewis. I have bought all three books. I reviewed the others here and here. I spent Sunday afternoon and early evening reading Out of Silence from cover to cover as I didn’t want to put it down. Of all the books I have read this month, this was the one which affected my emotions the most. I found it impossible to remain detached from the characters. Tears streamed down my face at two points in the story. I prefer not to read the back cover or any reviews before I read a book, so that I do not have any preconceived ideas about it. If you want to find out more before you read it (and I recommend that you do read it!) the information is available elsewhere. Annie Try’s style is very readable. The book is set in London. I have been to some of the places mentioned in it and travelled on one of the bus routes!

Links to the books: Seaside Pleasures by Ann LingardSurfacing by Margaret AtwoodThe Choir by Joanna Trollope, The Illustrated Herdwick Shepherd by James Rebanks,Go set a watchman by Harper LeeOut of Silence by Annie Try